Researchers from China’s Harbin Institute of Technology have 3D printed a soft robot in graphene-oxide that is capable of moving backward and forwards when exposed to moisture.
The scientists combined Direct Ink Writing (DIW) 3D printing and constrained drying techniques to fabricate the soft robot, and were able to overcome the porosity, shrinkage and structure uniformity challenges previously observed when 3D printing graphene-oxide objects.
According to the researchers, the study could provide a versatile platform from which graphene-oxide soft robots with moisture actuation capabilities can be further developed.
Challenges of 3D printing with graphene
Graphene has numerous desirable properties that make it suited to applications within energy generation, microelectronics, biomedicine, and sensors, to name but a few. The material’s lightweight properties, electrical and thermal conductivity, and mechanical strength offer great promise within these areas, however as much of graphene’s potential comes from deploying the material in its monolayer form, utilizing the material for 3D printing still presents significant challenges.
Steps have been previously been taken towards harnessing graphene’s potential within 3D printing, though, such as the development of a high-resolution 3D printing method by researchers from Virginia Tech and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which involves the dispersal of graphene within a gel to form a 3D printable resin. LLNL has also worked with a team at the University of California, Santa Cruz to produce graphene-based aerogel electrodes used within energy storage devices.
Elsewhere, researchers from Spain’s Institute of Ceramics and Glass (ICV) and Aix-Marseille University 3D printed graphene oxide scaffolds as the basis for lightweight hybrid structures that retained many of graphene’s desirable properties, including electrical conductivity and water adsorption capacity.
More recently, University at Buffalo researchers have developed a novel 3D printed water-purifying graphene aerogel that could be used within wastewater treatment plants, while Uppsala University scientists and graphene specialist Graphmatech have successfully added graphene to 3D printed copper parts to increase their strength and density.